The Telegraph (UK), I live for love and seduction >>
Sultry French chanteuse Arielle Dombasle instructs Peter Culshaw in the mysteries and dangers of l'amour
Arielle Dombasle, actress, film director, one half - with writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy - of "France's most famous couple" (according to Vanity Fair, which knows about such rankings) has agreed to meet me for what she calls a "pre-Valentine" lunch in the chic London hotel she is staying in to promote her latest incarnation as a sultry latin-jazz chanteuse. The album, like her, seems effortlessly stylish, and is drenched with nostalgia and romance and called (what else?) Amor Amor.
When she and Levy (known by tout le monde as BHL) finally got married after a seven-year secret affair ("elevator men in hotels were our only confidantes" she says), 300 paparazzi were there to record the nuptials. Only in France would a philosopher be treated like a rock star (although his smouldering good looks helped), and the alliance with Dombasle, one of France's most cherished actresses, was irresistible to the media there.
Profiles of BHL here have tended to disguise envy with a lurking puritanism about their voluptuous lifestyle - the Sri Lankan butler in their elegant Paris apartment, the South of France retreat, the Marrakesh Palace, especially as he still claims to be a "Leftist". "He is just too handsome as well; that drives them crazy," says Dombasle. Since the '70s, he has combined philosophical works written in one of their gorgeous homes with travels in war zones and has regularly produced timely, prescient despatches from places such as Kosovo, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
She made her name in France starring in films such as Eric Rohmer's Pauline on the Beach and directing the cult film Les Pyramides bleues. Here, she's probably best known for appearing in the TV series Lace and Miami Vice.
Her break into music came with an album of indiosyncratic electronic interpretations of songs by classical composers including Fauré and Gounod, which became an unlikely French hit. Given the title of her new album (released the day before Valentines), it seems only correct to ask her if she has found true love.
"Definitely. Some people are not interested in love, but I agree with Stendhal, l'amour c'est la grande affaire de la vie. I have always lived for love and seduction," she says breathily.
She stays with BHL unless he is away in a war zone, and, when I ask the secret of keeping passion alive, she says: "Love is the most unexpected thing, the most mysterious thing, dangerous. You have to stay on the edge, remain a free spirit. You should say there is not tomorrow, there is only today."
She's in her late forties but could pass for a decade younger. She was known as having "the smallest waist in Paris" and has a boyish figure, although claims to have had a large breakfast and consumes her lunch with gusto. "A friend of mine always says in any couple there is really a ménage a quatre - the boy and the girl in you and the boy and the girl in your lover."
Her first husband was "a fascinating playboy" 30 years older than her. "There is no problem with a difference in age. I think everyone has an age they stay all their lives. From the age of four, I thought I was 30, and I still do. My first husband always acted like he was 24, with the arrogance and the views of a man of that age."
You wouldn't describe her as a powerful singer, and her album is a delicate confection held together by a first-class latin band, recorded with antique microphones.
The record consists of her versions of mainly latin hits - cha-cha-chas, mambos, rhumbas - from the '30s to the '50s, with the odd calypso piece such as Rhum and Coca-Cola, which was a racy hit for the Andrews Sisters. Even more so than last year's retro-hit for Pink Martini, it conjures up a forgotten world of romance and sensuality.
Dombasle was born in America to French parents, and lived in Mexico until she was 18 when she went to Paris. "There is a nostalgia of my parents here. But since I can remember, my idea of my future when I was a child was dancing cheek-to-cheek under the moonlight. Spanish was my first language, and I loved the way the women would dress up to dance. And latin music works one thing on top of another on all the senses. It's so appealing: it touches the heart and the soul in such an emotive way."
Arielle Dombasle's 'Amor Amor' (Wrasse Records) is released on Monday. 02/09/06 >> go there